By Andy Choi
Engineers, biologists, graduate and undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, have observed how lizards remain upright even when they stumble in mid-air. The team has discovered that lizards swing their tails in the upward direction and this keeps them from falling forward.
A red-headed African Agama lizard swings its tail upward to prevent forward pitching after a slip during take-off. Credit: Robert Full lab/UC Berkeley
To test this theory, the scientists added a tail to a robotic car called Tailbot and drew a conclusion that throwing the tail in the air is not as simple as it sounds. In fact, lizards and robots have to alter the angle of their tail to offset the rotation of their body, thus protecting themselves from falling. If an actively controlled tail is used, even robots can jump and yet remain upright.
Team leader Robert J. Full, at the UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, said that applying this theory could help develop dexterous search-and-rescue robots as well as robots that are capable of quickly detecting biological, chemical or nuclear hazards.
Full further said that the therapod dinosaurs shown in the movie Jurassic Park could have used their tails to stabilize their bodies and this would have prevented them from falling. In fact, the dinosaur could be more effective in stabilizing its body than the lizards.
In a research-based teaching lab, Full and his students utilized a high-speed motion capture and videography to record how an African Agama lizard managed jumps from a platform that had varying degrees of traction, ranging from slippery to easily gripped sandpaper.
Full will report the discoveries online on January 5, 2012. The study will be published in the January 12 edition of the journal Nature.